The Symbolism Of Soap In Fight Club
Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk that recounts the experience of an unnamed protagonist who struggles with insomnia. The central character gains inspiration from his doctor’s comment that insomnia is not a kind of suffering leading him to find relief in the impersonation of a terminally ill individual in several support groups. The protagonist then encounters a mysterious man called Tyler Durden and the two forms a secretive fighting club for cathartic reasons. Tyler works several night jobs that allow him to demonstrate his contempt for the establishment, corporatism, consumerism, and hypocrisy. One of Tyler’s jobs is soap making where he creates expensive, luxury soaps the extracts of liposuction. Soap, which is a cleaning agent in real life, has been used as a symbol of cleansing and renewal in the world of Fight Club.
In the novel, Tyler works several night jobs where he disrupts companies and harms their clients to display his contempt for the consumerist culture and corporatism (Palahniuk). One of Tyler’s jobs is making soap making where he creates expensive, luxury soaps that he markets to high-end retailers who, in turn, sell to high-end customers. Tyler despises wealth and vanity that characterizes the upper-class society and explains that his soap-making venture is an act of resistance and cleansing because it cleans and renews the morally corrupt members of society (Palahniuk).
Tyler explains to the narrator of the novel that ancient civilizations would make human sacrifices and the run-off from the furnaces would be discharged to water sources like rivers (Palahniuk). Tyler explains that the discharge from the human sacrifices contained lye that would make clothes cleaner than water from any part of the river’s course. The locals then used the discovery of lye to invent soap that is actually used to clean clothes. In Tyler’s perspective, without human sacrifice, there would be no progress in humanity and he tells the narrator, “You have to see how the first soap was made of heroes”(Palahniuk).
In Fight Club, soap and soap making have been used as a manifestation of cleaning and renewal. Tyler explains that the process of manufacturing soap is brutal and demands sacrifice because animals have to be slaughtered in the process and bodies harvested to generate the state of cleanliness. The process of making soap thus signifies the brutality that exists in the world. The product, which is the soap that washes away all the dirt from people’s lives, is also symbolic of the pain and sacrifice that has to be made to keep the world evolving. Tyler says to the narrator, “Think about the animals used in product testing. Think about the monkeys shot in space. Without their death, their pain, without their sacrifice, we would have nothing” underpinning the sacrifices that have to be made to keep the world clean(Palahniuk).
In the narrator’s world, soap has a crucial role and Tyler’s description of the manufacturing process takes a sinister tone as he talks about glycerin, which can be weaponized by mixing with other compounds. Tyler says that “You can mix the glycerin with nitric acid to make nitroglycerin”, which is a compound that has a burning effect(Palahniuk). The narrator demonstrates the incendiary nature of nitroglycerin when he starts burning his own hands, a move that is symbolic of the theme of sacrifice in the book.
Marla Singer, who is a woman whom the narrator meets during a support group, brings him her mother’s fat to be used for operations. In this sense, Marla’s mother is one of the sacrifices that have to be made for the soap product that cleanses and renews. In Tyler’s perspective, fat is emblematic of the excess of everything that the rich have and he uses the fat derived from rich women’s bodies to make the best soap. Tyler resells the soap back to the rich indicating how blind the rich are because they are buying back what they paid money to get rid of through liposuction.
Tyler came up with the recipe for the soap and opted to use human fat because it has the right salinity (Palahniuk). Tyler and the narrator sneak to a liposuction clinic to pick the discarded fat from the bins and return to their laboratory to prepare the soap, which is the cleanser for all that is bad and evil in the world. Tyler claims that “With enough soap, you could blow up the world” thereby underpinning the importance of soap in making the world anew (Palahniuk). Soap has been used as a large-scale cleanser for tearing down the whole world to rebuild it afresh.
The narrator recounts how soap has become an explosive material that can be used to instigate terror attacks in a scheme called ‘Project Mayhem’ that would see the destruction of financial institutions that have been characterized by greed (Palahniuk). Tyler uses the same ingredients used to make soap to create the explosives that he would use to bring down the institutions representing all that is wrong with the world. Tyler thus justifies the terror attacks on the financial institutions by analogizing the anarchy and violence that brought about social change in ancient civilizations and the discovery of soap to his current cause.
Soap is thus a symbol of cleansing one’s self and the society in Fight Club. The Fight Club members use the soap to wash away the blood and dirt from their bodies after the cathartic fights that they engage in to restore and assert their masculinity at a time when there are no great wars to fight or overcoming their mindset (Palahniuk). The fights are also a representation of the members’ resistance to the idea of being cocooned in the society because it strips away their fear of pain and the material things that people use to assert their self-worth. After the fights, soap is used to wash away the dirt and symbolize the renewal of the members as they can now experience feeling in a society where they would otherwise be numb.
Tyler refers to soap as a tool of attaining civilization claiming “Project Mayhem will breakup civilization so we can, make something better out of the world”(Palahniuk). Tyler sells soap to department stores because it was beautiful and was the cleansing agent for all the consumerism and hypocrisy in the society. In real life, soap is used during the cleaning process to wash clothes, clean the dishes, or wash the floor. In the world of Fight Club, soap serves the same purpose as it is sold as a cleaning agent to retailers who further sell it to customers. The soap also doubles as a cleansing agent to tear down the world and build it anew with the formation of explosives from the same material used to manufacture soap. Tyler uses the same cleaning properties of soap as a metaphor for cleaning the society and ridding it of consumerism and hypocrisy, which he is against.
Soap, which is a cleaning agent in real life, has been used as a symbol of cleansing and renewal in the world of Fight Club. Soap is made from the extracts of liposuction where overweight people have fat extracted from them in a surgical process. Tyler views the liposuction process as a human sacrifice that must happen to obtain soap and likens it to the sacrifice that people used to make in ancient civilizations leading to the discovery of soap. Soap, which the members of the Fight Club use to clean themselves after attaining a higher state of mind, turns into a large scale cleansing agent that can be used to purge society of hypocrisy and materialism.
- Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club: a novel. WW Norton & Company, 2005.
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